Free to Obey

Josh Barro
(New York Times’ Josh Barro)

For years, a variety of secular liberal causes have campaigned for “tolerance,” “personal freedom,” or some variant of those things. It is ironic that as they have advanced their agenda, particularly in the areas of LGBT and abortion policy, they have become increasingly intolerant of anyone who disagrees with them.

Theologian Ravi Zacharias has spoken about the paradox of tolerance in America, noting that Americans pride themselves on living in a culture that values autonomy. Autonomy values the idea that every individual should have the right to make their own political and theological choices. America, seeking a model that would allow a pluralistic people to coexist, became the first autonomous model of the modern era.

The alternative to an autonomous culture is a heteronomous culture, where a small group of people direct the masses what to believe and how to live. Heteronomous models have governed most of the world for most of history. Secular Marxism and radical Islam are modern examples of the heteronomous model.

Secular liberals want a heteronomous culture where an elite few dictate the values that everyone else must hold. But in selling it to Americans, they refuse to own the heteronomous label. So they use different names for it. “Tolerance” and “acceptance” are common choices. They claim they only want to be left alone, and provided that, will allow everyone else to go on with their lives. Yet they are lying, and Zacharias points that out:

If I respect the person who disagrees with me, and wants to live a totally materialistic life, ought not that compliment be returned and give me the privilege of having my autonomy and having my choice to follow God and my choice to follow where the truth has lead? [They] will turn the questions towards people like me and others and force us to answer it under the guise of an Autonomous culture. But the moment my view is not in keeping with the view that [they] want… [they] switch into a heteronomous culture, and I’m dictated to and I’m told this is exactly what I need to believe and not what I actually believe.

Those who want a heteronomous culture are not working towards it by plainly laying out their goals. They are working for it by claiming they only want “tolerance.” Upon gaining “tolerance,” they say that others will have the choice to join them, but not be forced to do so. Yet again, they are lying. Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia wrote an oft-quoted letter on the topic:

Evil talks about tolerance only when it’s weak. When it gains the upper hand, its vanity always requires the destruction of the good and the innocent, because the example of good and innocent lives is an ongoing witness against it.  So it always has been.  So it always will be.

As secular liberal causes advance their agenda, we see this point illustrated. We see it, for instance, when liberal abortion advocates stop talking about freedom of conscience and begin talking about their right to take money and use it for morally objectionable purposes. It is no longer about the right to be left alone with their freedom of conscience; it is about the right that we have to sit down and shut up if we do not hold the same moral values.

The LGBT movement similarly began on the basis of talking points about “freedom” – individual freedom, freedom of association, and so on. That has evolved today into shutting businesses and forcing business owners to undergo re-education if they aren’t “sensitive” enough. The Heritage Foundation’s Ryan Anderson was the latest victim of the movement’s visceral hostility when New York Times reporter Josh Barro began tweeting last week that “some people are deserving of incivility” – namely, anyone with a theistic worldview.

I find it especially ironic when libertine observers are shocked to find that their liberal counterparts were never actually about tolerance. An author at Reason Magazine expressed his dismay this week that discrimination laws in Colorado were evolving such that even some types of homosexuals could not freely associate. He complained that it lent credence to the “illogical slippery slope argument.” His shock is probably going to increase when he discovers what else is on the slippery slope.

Secular liberalism has nothing to do with freedom. It is about co-opting causes – like the LGBT movement – and using them to justify a heteronomous culture where dissent is snuffed out and the only freedom we have is the freedom to obey government. It is a despicable, insidious agenda, and one that advocates of limited government do not often enough call out.


The views and opinions expressed by individual authors are not necessarily those of other authors, advertisers, developers or editors at United Liberty.